Juneau author wins Native writing award

Posted: Thursday, August 02, 2001

This year Freda Westman's sister, Angie, received an award-winning birthday gift.

Angie is the title character in Westman's short story, "Angie's Birthday Present," which won the new Alaska Native Writers Award for Literature and $500 from the University of Alaska Southeast's literary magazine, Explorations.

"It stood out from the beginning paragraph forward," said Art Peterson, editor of Explorations. "It accomplished everything that a piece of fiction ought to accomplish - naturalness, clarity, voice, character, handling of symbolism."

Westman, a Juneau resident, began writing after she returned to college in the early 1980s. During her time at UAS, she wrote stories and editorials for the college's newspaper, "Whale Song," and began work on several pieces of fiction and poetry.

"I really have written only a very few pieces in my life, but I've read a lot," said Westman, a Tlingit of the Kog Waan Taan clan.

"Angie's Birthday Present" centers on Westman's vague childhood memory of a warm summer day in 1960s Juneau. Westman was born here in 1956, and lived in the Cedar Park apartments until 1970. The location is revisited in her story.

"I wrote the story as a birthday present for my sister," Westman said. "I worked back from the memory and just thought about how ... a summer day might have been. I wrote it on scratch paper in longhand in the evenings after work."

The story blends day-to-day happenings with hints of symbolism that Westman said were initially unintentional.

"I didn't really understand it when I first wrote it, but then later on ... it really did strike me what it was I was trying to say," she said.

The message, she added, is "that positive change is very slow. My mother was a positive force, but it's slow, very slow."

Encouraged by the success of her first submitted piece, Westman plans to keep writing.

"It is good to write about what you know, so I'll be writing more about - maybe not childhood experiences, but more about my own experiences," she said.

Other Explorations winners are Rhett Iseman of Winston-Salem, N.C., Margaret Gish-Miller of Clovis, Calif., Stephen Hahn of Anchorage and Len Krisak of Newton, Mass. Explorations received 650 submissions, Peterson said.

The winning pieces all shared a certain quality, he added.

"When the power of art is working, a piece will seem truer than true," Peterson said. "That is the beauty of art, that each time you read it, it's a recreation of the same feelings that occurred before."

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